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Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal? : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
jaus tail
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Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby jaus tail » Tue Oct 30, 2012 6:26 am

Hello everyone,

I've been reading 'The Fountainhead' for some time now and I realized that none of the protagonists have any immediate goal. Most guides to writers say that the three lines on which any novel is written are,
1)What is the protagonist goal?
2) What are the hindrances in him achieveing that goal?
3) How does he achieve or try to achieve?

But this novel is more like a fictional biography, there are no immediate goals.

Do goals mean saving the world, gathering money for kid's park and fighting the mean construction company, becoming a model, fighting domestic violence, getting out of prison, freeing a nation etc etc, I mean does the goals of the main character have to be specific and elaborate, because the characters in the fountainhead don't have any immediate goal as such. They just seem to be living their lives and conflicts do occur but it's not like 'the world is coming to an end, or some serial killer is out on the looser?'

The Fountainhead did good business but it was in 1949 and I wanted to know whether such a novel which doesn't have any fancy missions going on make it pass the publisher in today's age whether internet, movies and television offer bigger sources of entertainment? By bigger I mean louder like why would anyone care about the life of some architect when there's an alien invasion being shown on HBO?

Does the mission always have to be elaborate and huge?
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mammamaia
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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby mammamaia » Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:52 am

many novels are not protag's-goal-oriented... there are character studies, coming-of-age stories, family sagas, historical novels, etc.... any of which can lack a clearly defined immediate single goal for a sole protag...
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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby max2011 » Tue Oct 30, 2012 11:04 am

That's good to know mammamaia. My YA novel is a coming of age story but there is no clear goal for the protagonist. My writing group suggested I make it a focus, but it deters from his learning experiences. So....

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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby jaus tail » Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:24 pm

Have a nice day

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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby Linton Robinson » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:59 am

Almost any "should" statement like that is incorrect, or admits to huge exceptions.
That sort of "template" advice is very often absurdly constrictive.

My advice to you, more broadly, would be to just forget about the term "protagonist". I meant that literally. There is nothing in the term that can help you write, and it causes undue confusion and doubt to many writers--as you are experiencing.

It is huge mistake to confuse descriptive and CRITICAL structures like that with CREATIVE structures.

There's more on this in this article. But seriously, that whole idea that a novel has to be driven by a single central character (ever read a love story? see a buddy movie? a story based on rivals or love triangle? an ensemble film like The Breakfast Club or The Big Chill? Just drop that word from your vocabulary and you will be much better off.

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/04/ ... -robinson/

It might be instructive to many writing students to also read the comments on that post, by the way. There are some interesting refinements on the ideas there, from other writers.
As well as a massive outpouring of the mental benefits of shedding this kind of strait-jacket.
Those comments are mostly from writers who have published and sold writing, by the way.
Think it over.



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mammamaia
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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby mammamaia » Wed Oct 31, 2012 12:02 pm

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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:33 pm

If you're writing a genre novel, then, yes, a protagonist should have a goal, be it a serious problem that needs solved, a question that needs answered, or both.

The Fountainhead is not a genre novel. It really isn't a literary novel, either. It's more a political and social statement, but I'd still say you're wrong about the protagonist not having an immediate and clear goal. He does have a goal, and that's to live his life according to his own standards, his own beliefs on what intergrity and social value really means.

A novel may certainly have more than one protagonist, but it needs at least one. And even when there is more than one, as in many love stories, one of the two usually takes center stage. I've yet to read a novel that didn't have at least one protagonist, and I've read thousands of novels. I've also yet to read a single novel where the protagonist didn't have a goal.

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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby jaus tail » Wed Oct 31, 2012 10:25 pm

I realize that some goal must be there in the protagonist's life, like a purpose to read further to make the story interesting to read. Why would anyone read the history of an orphanage if it wasn't famous for battling a construction giant?
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Linton Robinson
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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby Linton Robinson » Thu Nov 01, 2012 2:54 am

Well, maybe because it's "literary fiction" and nobody cares what happens, just how the writer feels about it.
Take a look at "Mezzanine"--highly prized. What "happens" is the narrator goes down on floor on an escalator.

So if an orphange is battling against a rezone... where is the "protagonist"?


This is one reason I tell people to drop that whole "protagonist" poop unicorns and rainbows. As soon as you invoke it you start scrambling around for all these things that "have to happen" or "should be there".

It doesn't help you, just puts on blinders and messes you up.






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Re: Should All Protagonists Have An Immediate Goal?

Postby Linton Robinson » Thu Nov 01, 2012 2:58 am

In fact a novel does NOT need "at least one protagonist". That should be pretty obvious to anybody who has read more novels that writing manuals.

And if you think a "genre" novel "has to have a protagaonist" It would be obvious that science fiction is not one of the genre's you are familiar with.

And once you start saying "there can be multiple protagonists" you kind of make the term meaningless, don't you? Why not just call them lead characters or mains or something that makes sense and is the way writers talk about writing, rather than critics? Instead of a term that drags a bunch of claptrap in alone with it.






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